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How to Develop an Intern Program

How to Develop an Intern Program

When you need more than a youth ministry volunteer can give, but you’re not looking for another you, an intern may be the answer.

“Can anyone help me with all these young people?” It’s a common cry heard from youth workers. Volunteers can do a great deal to enrich our programs, but there is one unalterable fact about volunteers: They can quit if they want to because they’re not held accountable by money or a church staff. Even with a large staff of dedicated volunteers, we often need someone who can give extra amounts of time to personal contact, administration and youth programming. One strategy for extending youth ministry beyond volunteer capabilities is to use an intern. An intern is a person in process. One good example of the kind of person who works well in an internship is our first summer intern. Marty had grown up within the church, met Christ personally in her junior high years and continued to be a strong leader within her high school youth group. In her college years, she desired to work with the youth of the church, so she was added to our volunteer staff.

Consequently, when it was time for our internship to begin, Marty was the perfect choice. She was not a professional youth worker, but she had some skills and a teachable spirit. The church had approved the idea for a summer intern whose ministry would be directed primarily toward the teenage girls. We felt that the position was a good investment and would enhance the ministry. With Marty, our hopes were confirmed.

The Pros and Cons of Interns: Understandably, some people question the need for paid interns. You’ve heard the objections: Why pay someone else when the church already has a paid youth worker? Paying someone else to do ministry seems to be contrary to a volunteer staff philosophy. Why pay someone else when the volunteers already are doing the same work? Ideally, the volunteer is as trainable and open to learning new skills as the intern. If we have enough volunteers, won’t all the bases be covered? Isn’t the intern just a glorified volunteer? In many ways, the intern seems to be a “paid volunteer,” with the one difference that money means accountability. In light of these objections, we need to look at the benefits of an internship so we can judge intelligently whether it would be best for our situation. What are the advantages of an intern? The intern fills in gaps left by the volunteers. The intern can go to the high school for lunch with the kids, for example, while most volunteers cannot or will not. Most volunteers contribute limited time in a limited sphere, but the intern can invest large amounts of quality time. The intern frees up the youth pastor. Initially, I spent many hours directing our intern; but in time, the intern program released Marty to full-time ministry with girls, freeing me to focus in on the guys. Her internship helped us overcome the “let the pastor do everything” mentality. I’ve also seen situations of an intern with administrative skills really freeing up a youth pastor!

An internship gives higher visibility to the youth ministry. When the church sees a youth pastor and an intern, there’s a greater acknowledgment and awareness of the needs of the youth. The congregation realizes that it takes more than one person to run the program.

An internship can release workers into the community. An intern with evangelistic skills, for example, can be released to go out onto the campus. I’m the pastor of a college-town church. One of my strengths is helping leaders discover and use their gifts. I have one youth intern who majors in evangelism in the junior highs, working in the schools every week. Meanwhile, our college interns are using their gifts on the local college campus. As a result, new people have been brought into the church. I never could do what the interns are doing.